Thursday July 21, 2016

11 years of Milliblog!

Posted by Karthik

I was at the neighborhood barber shop two weeks ago. For some historical reason that I’m not aware of, every single barber shop in Bangalore is run by people who speak Telugu. So, as usual, the shop was filled with glorious 80s and 90s Telugu film songs. I usually Shazam/SoundHound everything I hear and the highlight of that day was Iddaru Dongalu’s Amma na pando!

Then, I was in Uber cabs multiple times last week. Most of my Uber cab drivers—just my luck—play Kannada songs and, if I’m really lucky, I get to hear some great songs. Last week, in one such trip, it was early 90s songs from Chaitrada Premanjali and Belli Kalungara, both with Hamsalekha’s music.

If you have been to any part of Tamil Nadu, you would have encountered blaring film music from every nook and corner. Most of them, particularly, outside Chennai, may still be playing Ilayaraja’s music from the 80s and 90s.

And here’s an opinion piece on the impact of 90s Bollywood music, even though the writer unfortunately spins a class divide over them.

The thing is, I believe Indian film music is usually taken for granted. It’s always there in the background, cuts across a wide spectrum of people, but is still seen as low-brow in comparison to other forms of music, probably because it is in abundance, I assume.

And another thing that gets missed in the equation is about languages – people somehow seem scared to listen to something in a language they don’t know. As if they’re committing a grave sin by listening to something they don’t understand, or worse, assuming it to be a waste of their time. Composers like A R Rahman demolished that notion to a large extent, and it has manifested right up to Sairat being enjoyed by Tamilians without understanding a word of Marathi, though I know precisely why they connect with it, given its strong Ilayaraja influence.

Interestingly, Ilayaraja himself was incredibly prolific across the 4 Southern languages in his heydays, but his music did not transcend boundaries and have people of one language listen to another language’s film songs. It was a lot more pronounced during Rahman’s time when a lot more Tamil songs were consumed by ‘North Indians’, thanks also to opening up of TV channels.

So there! It’s been 11 years with me trying to cut the language barrier, listening to almost every single soundtrack that released in a few Indian languages, and putting forward my view on them.

For a completely untrained person like me—untrained in any form of music or instrument—that IS a long time to be doing what I do, that too, as a hobby. I’m aware that my views on music are merely based on how I react to it, and with mildly above-average vocabulary. And not on any kind of musical training or formal music appreciation study.

It’s all quite instinctive – I like some, I don’t like, I love etc. Nothing more. Oddly enough, I believe a vast majority of people react to music that way and that the more evolved kind, who are musically trained or musically aware are a serious minority. The point is, I really don’t care who, in specific, (or which composer’s fans) reads my reviews or who is affected by it, in what way. This is what I meant by not writing ‘for an audience’ that got misunderstood (though, to be fair, as per communications 101, I should have been clearer in my articulation – so, I apologize.) and sly-tweeted recently.

But yes, I do want people to read my views – the more, the merrier, since I’m learning along with them, on what people seem to like and what they don’t. Who wouldn’t want an audience, after all, to bounce off views? Only thing, I believe that it does not affect the way I write… else, I’d have turned into a rabid fan of Himesh Reshammiya by now.

Writing for Milliblog and interacting with people over a decade, I have seen people invariably reacting in a few predictable ways.

1. ‘You did not like that soundtrack. So, you must hate that composer’.
My standard response to that is the first statement is true, but you need more than one album’s review to prove the second statement. People generally do not realize that.

2. ‘You are not liking something that millions of others like’.
Why is that a problem, I have never been able to fathom. That opinions are different and individualistic isn’t something many people are willing to buy, as logic.

3. ‘You have the responsibility to not sway people (in the wrong direction; against ‘good’ music)’
This is the most interesting standard feedback. Honestly, I don’t think that many people read Milliblog for it to be of any significance, but let’s just assume many do, for a minute. In what direction am I not supposed to sway them? Should I,
a. Say something completely neutral about a soundtrack I did not like? So they go, ‘did he like it or not?’
b. Use mild words to showcase me not liking a soundtrack so that people think I’m somehow ‘balanced’?

I have no idea.

4. ‘Your view of that soundtrack hurt me, because I’m a big fan of that composer/actor/singer’
This confounds me everytime. The fact that ‘they’ got hurt by my writing is something they need to introspect.

But what I have learnt is that I need to stick to only one rule – to write what I feel, without caring about how anyone would react to it. And this is something I write very often in the comments to fans of Rahman, Pritam, Himesh or Ilayaraja when they have a debate on my supposed abuse of responsibility to my readers. This, despite explaining the stand on opinions so many times.

It is an amusing side-project—to help people understand that opinions are highly subjective and individual, and that you cannot ever argue over them as if they were facts.

The main project, of course, has always been writing whatever I feel about the music I listen to. And as long as I don’t get paid for managing this blog (I do make some money off Adsense that helps in paying for the education of at least one child via World Vision), as long as I consciously avoid interacting and getting close to music industry folks (I try my best to stay actively away; even when they interact occasionally, many of them drop off after my last not-so-positive review), that main project will be alive.

The big life lesson I have learnt because of Milliblog is to not undermine someone else’s choice of music (or choice of anything in life, for that matter). We all are an amalgamation of what we choose, like, love, enjoy and hate. And these combinations are unique for everyone. So, when I write down a new Rahman soundtrack, it doesn’t not mean I’m making fun of people who like it. It simply means, I, an individual, did not like that soundtrack. There is a big difference between the two.

I’m human too, and sometimes I do forget to stay off making fun off, mildly or blatantly, someone else’s choice while commenting on a composer’s latest work. But I do try to consciously stay on this side of the line – to merely comment on the musical work and not make a statement about the audience that may be construed as an opinion about the audience.

If you think I’m influencing many others to follow my lead in not liking that soundtrack, then I honestly think you’re undermining people’s individuality a LOT. I’d personally give people a lot more credit for being individualistic and having an opinion on their own.

Thank you for reading Milliblog!

Related reads: Milliblog completes 5 years | Milliblog turns 10

PS: Completely self-indulgent (sorry!) numbers – so far, on Milliblog:
Hindi music reviews – 721
Tamil music reviews – 708
Telugu music reviews – 261
Malayalam music reviews – 114
Kannada music reviews – 117
Bengali music reviews – 5
Marathi music reviews – 5
Non-film music reviews – 175
Film reviews – 77
Lists – 186 (including monthly top listens; Hitman, than I started to write for The Hindu; and annual/year-end music lists that I started writing since 2006)



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